By lowering its benchmark interest rate virtually to zerohttp://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2008/12/median_wages.html, the Federal Reserve has eliminated monetary policy as a financial tool to aid the economy. Good riddance, because this was never a financial crisis.
What led to the whole crisis was the stagnation of wages combined with rising income inequality: people who didn’t have a lot of money were competing for housing in an overinflated market (government policies to effectively make loans cheaper didn’t help either).
Wage stagnation is also maintaining the crisis. Who will loan in an environment where wages are stagnant and unemployment will rise? Lenders won’t get their money back. Kevin Drum puts it well (italics mine):
One way or another, there’s really no way for the economy to grow strongly and consistently unless middle-class consumers spend more, and they can’t spend more unless they make more. This was masked for a few years by the dotcom bubble, followed by the housing bubble, all propped on top of a continuing increase in consumer debt. None of those things are sustainable, though. The only sustainable source of consistent growth is rising median wages. The rich just don’t spend enough all by themselves.
The flip side of this, of course, is that rich people are going to have to accept the fact that they don’t get all the money anymore. Their incomes will still grow, but no faster than anyone else’s….
This isn’t just a matter of social justice. It’s a matter of facing reality. If we want a strong economy, we can only get it over the long term if we figure out a way for the benefits of economic growth to flow to everyone, not just the rich. This is, by far, Barack Obama’s biggest economic challenge. Until median wages start rising steadily and consistently, we haven’t gotten ourselves back on track.
Or as Tim F. at Balloon Juice put it:
In other words, the secret to sustainable economic growth is to make sure that a ton of people have a modest amoun[t] of disposable income. Having a few of people with a shitload of income, while the rest worry about medical bankruptcy, worked out less well.
Do we need a stimulus package? Absolutely, if for no other reason that, without one, unemployment will rise and incomes will sink. But what we need are two additional things, which can only come from Congress (not the Federal Reserve):
- Infrastructure (physical and human) development for long term growth.
- Policies that decrease the after-tax and after-healthcare income disparity.
Until these happen, we’re just tying off the wound.